vanilla caramels

9 Dec

My husband does not take the easy way out. When he decides to do something, he does it all the way and makes sure it’s done perfectly. This is especially true when it comes to cooking and baking. He is the type to follow recipes to a T. Everything gets measured. Everything. And ya know what? It always turns out. He loves making desserts and has a knack for picking the most complicated and labor-intensive recipe he can find. That was certainly the case with these caramels. He decided last year that he wanted to make something to add to the cookie plates and homemade gifts I typically make. When he came across this recipe for vanilla caramels in Food and Wine, he was committed. He LOVES caramels.

I love caramels too but I was skeptical. See, my grandma was the world’s best caramel maker. She was also a great cook, baker and an all-around wonderful person. I miss her dearly and think of her every time I eat a caramel. Her caramels were so good, they became a brand. My brother made and sold them for many years and then my mom’s youngest sister started a business selling my grandma’s caramels and she churns out thousands of caramels ever year. Abbie’s Candies continues the tradition my grandma loved so well – putting smiles on people’s faces with yummy treats.

So when Brette decided to make caramels, I had reservations. I knew they would be good (I mean, what’s not to like?), but they certainly couldn’t be as good as my grandma’s. Well…these are pretty awesome. Thankfully, they are very different from my grandmother’s famous recipe so I clearly could not pick a favorite. It would be like comparing apples and oranges. Plus who wants to pick between their husband and their grandmother? Not this chic.

I really like the addition of salt to these vanilla caramels. It adds another dimension and makes me feel like an adult when I eat them. Brette dipped half  the caramels in chocolate and left half of them plain. I have yet to decide which version I like better but don’t worry, I’ll keep on testing them and maybe some day I will come to a conclusion.

Since Brette is the Caramel maker, I thought I would have him share his thoughts about the process and the recipe.

Brette says:

Temperature is the difference between goo, caramel, or candy, so it is worth checking your candy thermometer before starting the process.  I boiled some water and found out our candy thermometer is off by -4 degrees.  That is probably why my caramels were a little harder than I would have liked last year. Taking that into account this year resulted in perfectly soft-but-not-too-soft squares of goodness.

A big chef’s knife works well for cutting the slab of caramel into squares.  All you need to know about me is I was using a ruler to cut my one inch squares.

The chocolate coating is a trick I haven’t figured out yet.  I forgot to use a double boiler this year so that didn’t help.  Last year I stuck a toothpick into the middle of a caramel to serve as a handle during the dipping process.  This year I did the same thing but it wasn’t working well (see double boiler mistake) so I just dipped the top into the chocolate.  I think they still look good and there is enough chocolate to do the job.  You have to be careful because there is a finite amount of time a caramel that is warming up because of the chocolate will stay on the toothpick.  I had more than one fail.  That is why self diagnosing my tummy ache later that night wasn’t too difficult.

I am happy with the end result. As I told Jen, the tedious part of making caramels is all of it.  If you accept that before you start, you will do great.

Vanilla Caramels

From Food and Wine


2 sticks unsalted butter

2 1/2 cups granulated sugar

1 cup light corn syrup

1 cup heavy cream

1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped

Coarse sea salt, crumbled (I use the prepackaged a sea salt grinder.  Use the grinder for the crumbling and then pop the top off and use the big chunks to top the chocolate dipped caramels)

1/2 pound bittersweet chocolate, melted (optional)


  1. Line a 9-by-13-inch pan with foil; spray it with vegetable oil. In a heavy saucepan, melt the butter. Add the sugar, corn syrup and cream and bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Add the vanilla seeds. Cook over moderately low heat, stirring, until a golden caramel forms and the temperature reaches 245° on a candy thermometer, 1 hour. Stir in 1 tablespoon of salt and scrape the caramel into the prepared pan. Let cool and set completely overnight.
  2. Lightly oil a sheet of parchment paper and line 2 baking sheets with wax paper. Invert the caramel onto the parchment and peel off the foil. Using a sharp knife, cut the caramel into 1-inch-wide strips and then into 1-inch squares. Dip the squares into the chocolate, tap off the excess and transfer to the wax paper on the baking sheets. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and refrigerate for 10 minutes. Alternatively, wrap the plain caramel squares in wax paper  or parchment paper.

5 Responses to “vanilla caramels”

  1. cheryl December 10, 2010 at 8:43 am #

    Love carmels too. Have a good, similar recipe that uses Fluer de Sel salt, but I never thought about using a ruler. They look terrific.

  2. Carin December 10, 2010 at 8:47 am #

    They look beautiful Brette!

  3. Fav Sista December 10, 2010 at 7:53 pm #

    Brette, you never fail to amaze me. Looking forward to trying your caramels as I am sure you will be bringing some to our home for the Christmas celebration? Major HINT!


  1. Breakfast Pizza and Recipe Roundup | The Heavy Table - Minneapolis-St. Paul and Upper Midwest Food Magazine and Blog - December 10, 2010

    […] Vanilla caramels, oven-baked apple doughnuts, breakfast pizza as inspired by Pizzeria Lola (our review’s here), 1990s pasta, spaghetti and (dense) meatballs, peanut clusters, and cranberry walnut bread. » Breakfast Pizza and Recipe Roundup » Print Version // » Leave a Comment Click here to cancel reply. […]

  2. holiday highlights « She said. She said. - December 27, 2010

    […] Brette’s vanilla caramels. Everyone who ate one, loved them. I may have just popped one into my mouth just this […]

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